Take More Iron to Pump More Iron?: Supplementation and Women’s Fitness

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Iron Supplements Show New Benefits for WomenIron is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies recognized in the clinical community. This is the reason why iron deficiency anemia remains one of the most common forms of anemia treated in clinical practice. And females are at greatest risk of developing the classic signs and symptoms of iron deficiency as a result of two simple facts: 1) depending on dietary practices, there may be a general inadequate supply of bio-available iron from food intake; and 2) in women, the need for a stable bio-available source of iron increases throughout adulthood. In addition, the need for iron can continue to be an existing health issue in women of child-bearing age due to monthly blood loss.

Women tend to get less than the required amount of iron from their diet; unless they are consuming quality sources of iron on a consistent basis, their iron storage reserves can become depleted. Simply put, women tend to have a finite ability to store iron in adequate amounts for long-term use; hence, in order to lower your risk of iron deficiency, it’s necessary that you get the most from the iron you do consume.

Heme iron from animal sources, including meat and shellfish, is the best quality source of bio-available iron. Plant sources of iron are only 15% absorbable, regardless of the total intake, because most of it is in the non-heme form. Increasing your intake of heme iron sources in combination with more fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C will greatly improve the amount of iron your body can absorb from your diet.

Other than preventing iron deficiency anemia, is there any other benefit to taking iron supplements if you are female?

According to some recent research findings, the answer to this question is a resounding yes!

The researchers analyzed the results of 22 different studies that evaluated the effects of iron supplementation on the physical performance of adult women. The data from this analysis concluded that iron supplementation improved exercise tolerance as evidenced from the improvements in maximal oxygen uptake and maximum oxygen utilization during an exercise session compared to subjects who did not take iron supplements.

Iron supplementation also improved sub-maximal exercise performance. This implies that iron supplementation was also influencing the fitness level of these women as evidenced by lower average heart rates and improvements in oxygen delivery compared to non-supplemented groups.

As the researchers concluded, “Our data establish evidence of a beneficial effect from iron supplementation on exercise performance in women. Effect estimates can be used to determine the expected benefit to individual women and perhaps populations from alleviation of iron deficiency.”

Although most women may not even be aware that they have low levels of iron storage (measured as serum ferritin), they could be “running on empty” for quite some time and may greatly benefit from iron supplementation. This scenario is commonly witnessed by women who have become more physically active and may experience the symptoms of overtraining syndrome. These symptoms could include fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle aches, insomnia, mood swings, and poor exercise tolerance.

This population of women who may have a sub-clinical iron deficiency could greatly benefit from iron supplementation and could experience a proportional improvement in their own level of physical performance, energy levels, and quality of life.

The best iron supplements are bound to polysaccharides or amino acids for optimal absorption. It is recommended that you use no more than 40 milligrams of heme iron per day to alleviate iron deficiency. Your iron status can be accurately assessed by measuring your blood serum levels of the protein ferritin. This value tells you how much iron you have available to you in your body at any given time and is considered an accurate assessment in the risk of developing iron deficiency anemia.

Sources for Today’s Article:

Fox, S., “Iron Supplements Boost Physical Performance in Women,” Medscape web site, April 16, 2014; http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/823742?nlid=54923_2743&src=wnl_edit_dail&uac=5573DJ.

Pasricha, S.-R., et al., “Iron Supplementation Benefits Physical Performance in Women of Reproductive Age: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” J. Nutr. June 1, 2014; jn.113.189589.